Aurora Colorado Chasidic Tale

Aurora Colorado Chasidic Tale

Originally published in the Intermountain Jewish News


(There is a word rarely seen in a newspaper.  The word is “miracle.”  If you use it, you sound like a crazy religious fundamentalist.)

A friend of mine named Gary Tessler (he used to be a broadcaster, but that’s another story) is a Funeral Director at Shalom Funeral Service in Denver.  He was supposed to do a funeral at Mount Nebo Cemetery in Aurora one morning.  So, properly dressed in a conservative suit and black hat, he placed the casketed deceased into the hearse, latched the coffin in place so it wouldn’t slide around in the hearse, and drove to the cemetery arriving there at 10 a.m., well before the funeral was supposed to start.    When Gary arrived at the cemetery, he went to the back of the hearse to open the rear door and release the catches so that when the pallbearers were ready, they could get the casket out. That’s when things went bad.

The rear door would not open. And the key didn’t help. (Gary realized that the casket wouldn’t fit out the front door.  He can’t get the casket out.  Now is a good time to worry.)  So he went around to the front of the hearse, climbed in and crawled back over the casket to try to open the door from the inside. It still wouldn’t open.  Soon some members of the funeral party and workers at the cemetery joined the effort.  Not knowing what else to do, Gary had one of the cemetery employees climb to the back of the hearse over the casket and kick the door from inside the hearse to try to get it open.  (Great visual here)  It still didn’t help. Gary called his mechanic.  After having Gary try several things, he said “You have to postpone the funeral and bring the hearse back to the shop to get the door open”.   (This was not covered in the training manual for funeral directors, the Talmud, a Leo Rosten book of Jewish stories, or the prayer book.) 

It is now 10:45, everyone has arrived for the service and the family is ready.  Gary tells the officiating rabbi, Rabbi Aahron Sirota of the Western Center for Soviet Jewry, they may have to postpone the service because it is impossible to get the casket out of the hearse.  Wishing he were anywhere but where he was, Gary started to walk over to the family to postpone the funeral. How do you announce postponing a funeral?  (Hi folks, come back tomorrow?  This funeral has been postponed due to technical difficulties?   Yeah right.)

(Now I have to explain something or else the rest of the story won’t make sense.  Traditionally when Jews want G-d to do a miracle, we recite psalms.  There are different psalms for different purposes.  We know that G-d responds to Jews saying psalms.  So the rabbis tell us to say psalms.) 

Right then, Rabbi Sirota, approached the rear of the hearse and while reciting the specific psalms to honor the deceased, turned the handle and opened the door.  The pallbearers removed the deceased and the funeral continued without further incident.

After the service, Gary went back to the hearse and closed the rear door without thinking.  He stood for a few moments thinking and then just to reassure himself, tried to open it again.  Nothing happened.  The door wouldn’t open. Even more puzzled, Gary drove the hearse back to Shalom and asked the mechanic to repair it. 

Two days later the mechanic delivered his verdict.  This door could not have opened.  The mechanism that allows the door latch to be released, had broken off and fallen to the inside bottom of the door.  Without that piece there was no way for the door to open. This story was physically impossible.  One of Gary’s colleagues, a devoutly religious Catholic, wondered aloud if he should be bringing his religious issues to Rabbi Sirota instead of his priest.   Maybe Rabbi Sirota does have special connections.

On the other hand, Rabbi Sirota was just doing what a Jew is supposed to; Reciting psalms to honor the deceased.

(This story requires a conclusion.  A standard way to write a conclusion is to refer back to the beginning to tie the story together.  But that would require using the word that we don’t use in newspapers and I don’t want to sound like a crazy religious fundamentalist.  So I need to do it another way.) 

This may be Aurora Colorado’s first Chasidic Tale.